Welcome to another edition of trademark stories that are inspired by billboard advertisements:

This one was captured for obvious reasons, if you’re familiar with our interest in brandverbing:

Putting aside whether early October is too early to be promoting holiday wine shopping without a hint of a Halloween theme (there’s Stellaween for that), thoughts about the Stellabrate verbing?

Does Stellabrate make you want to throw a party? Hamm it up? Tanqueray? Or, count bottles?

Stella Rosa (Star Rose) has poured itself an overflowing glass of Stella-trademarks (Stellabrate, StellabrationStellaweenStella Peach, Stella Berry, Stella RedStella Pink, Stella Gold, Stella PlatinumStella BiancoStella Babies, Stella Moscato, Stella Rosso, Stella Rose, It’s Stella Time, and Stella Gets Around), but it does not own the six-letter, one-word, star of the trademark show:

If the actual Stella trademark was in Stella Rosa’s constellation of trademark rights, it likely wouldn’t need to be coexisting or peacefully orbiting with the likes of these other wine “star” marks: StellaGrey, Stella Bella, Stella MaePoggio Stella, AquaStella, and Buona Stella.

While Stella Rosa can continue to brandverb with Stellabrate, and grow its constellation of Stella-trademarks, without Stella, becoming a really bright trademark star isn’t likely in this wine galaxy.

Much less in a beer garden:

As you know, I enjoy telling trademark stories about soaps encountered on my various trips:

Lather® (brand) soap recently caught my eye — and the lens of my iPhone — while in Palo Alto.

Interestingly, the USPTO has treated the word as inherently distinctive, in Lather’s registrations.

In other words, not merely descriptive, even though using the product surely produces some.

So, some imagination, thought, or perception is needed to understand the connection with soap?

If so, I’m thinking Lather® soap is certainly close to the line between descriptive and suggestive:

Brand managers, would you be in a lather if faced with these other “lather”-styled soap marks?

Trademark types, what gets you all lathered up when it comes to trademark enforcement?

Mike Lindell, has built an impressive business around a pretty simple brand name and trademark:

We’ve previously written about the MyPillow trademark, noting the apparently narrow scope of rights it enjoys, as a result of the coexistence with some pretty similar marks, including this one:

Earlier this year, My Pillow filed a complaint in federal district court in Minnesota, against LMP Worldwide, owner of the above federally-registered and incontestable trademark registration.

The complaint alleges breach of a 2013 settlement, federal trademark infringement and unfair competition, Minnesota deceptive trade practices, Minnesota unfair competition, and asks for damages, lost profits, and cancellation of the above-referenced federal trademark registration.

The complaint is interesting reading, and it appears the notion of any peaceful coexistence is no longer an option if Mr. Lindell has his way, especially given the allegations regarding breach of contract, actual confusion, keyword violations, and false advertising.

Pillow talk about the settlement terms will be most interesting, as only cryptic passages are public.

Suffice it to say, when you’re spending $4 Million each week on advertising the MyPillow brand, as the complaint alleges, I’m thinking it’s hard not to believe LMP isn’t enjoying an enormous windfall.

Yesterday, while on the highway heading to a client meeting, I noticed a truck that looked like this:

It reminded me of the plentiful ink we’ve spilled over the years about singular iconic non-verbal logos that can truly stand alone. Remember Seth Godin’s generous insights shared, here?

Given the dominant display of Amazon’s non-verbal logo shown above (without the Amazon brand name), it’s probably time to ask: Does or Can the Amazon Non-Verbal Logo Truly Stand Alone?

Over time, Amazon carefully and strategically has migrated and associated the non-verbal logo with other Amazon indicia, while omitting the likely famous Amazon word mark and brand name:

 

These variations look to be on the way, with Amazon not only smiling, but licking its chops as well:

So, I’m thinking Amazon’s “smile or curved arrow” design logo, has been out and about without a parent or guardian long enough, and it can and does truly stand alone, what do you say?

Back to the question in the title of the post, what do you see, a smile or a curved arrow, or both?

The more messages the better, at least from a trademark perspective, especially in thinking about Amazon’s scope of rights having no singular meaning, right?

It is frequently becoming more and more difficult to remember all the topics we’ve covered here over the last — almost — nine years. A recent Snickers end cap display jogged my memory:

Turns out, eight months into this little adventure we call DuetsBlog, I wrote a blog post called Delicious Trademarks: Candy Bar Cross-Section Trademarks? Then, a year later I wrote this one.

My only friendly amendment to the above point of sale end cap convenience store display is to swap the ™ notice for the coveted (or not so, under certain circumstances) ® registration symbol.

Wow, I have been asleep at the switch on this topic, my sincere apologies dear readers. Nearly a year after my second post on this topic, Mars filed an application to register this trademark:

After a couple rounds of descriptiveness office actions, Mars was able to persuade the Trademark Office that the claimed non-verbal candy bar depiction had acquired distinctiveness.

But, that wasn’t the end of the story, because as is often the case when unusual trademark protection is sought, a direct competitor came knocking, in this case, Hershey Chocolate opposed.

Our friend Marty Schwimmer over at the Trademark Blog was johnny-on-the-spot back in 2013 as Hershey opposed the day before Halloween, while I was distracted with this cheesy topic.

The functionality opposition continued for roughly three years until Hershey was able to extract some pretty sweet concessions from Mars, as revealed in this Consented Withdrawal of Opposition Without Prejudice Contingent Upon Amendment of Application.

So, after a little interpretation and modification by the Board, the registration issued with these express limitations:

“The mark consists of a cross-section of a candy bar showing layers within the candy, namely, a middle light brown layer containing several tan-colored peanut shapes and a bottom tan layer, all surrounded by a brown layer. The mark depicts a distinctive two-dimensional cross-sectional view of a candy bar.”

“No claim is made to the exclusive right to use the following apart from the mark as shown: THE SELECTION OF CANDY BAR INGREDIENTS DEPICTED IN THE MARK OR TO THE CONFIGURATION OF A CANDY BAR CONTAINING THOSE INGREDIENTS, EXCEPT AS DEPICTED IN THE APPLIED-FOR MARK.”

Now, there’s a mouthful. Suddenly, the actual issued trademark registration, doesn’t seem all that non-traditional, non-verbal yes, but clearly a two dimensional slice of, let’s say, non-configuration.

Given that, would you be speechless explaining to a client (anyone other than Hershey) what it can and can’t do in advertising food looking something like that when broken in half?

Another question, why doesn’t the end cap display of the cross-section match the drawing of the registered mark? For what it’s worth, I’m more tempted by the end cap than the registration.

Last question, what about Mars’ representation that the claimed mark “always appears in exactly the same manner when used by Applicant.” Maybe it was true when made, don’t know for sure.

We follow closely and write a lot about what goes on with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); these ironmongers do too, really well.

Serious trademark and brand owners care about TTAB decisions because many trademark disputes begin and end there, as the TTAB determines the important right to federally register trademarks.

What I mean by beginning there is, discreetly-used third party conflicting marks “flying under the radar,” rise to another level of trademark enforcement importance for a trademark and brand owner when the user also seeks federal registration, almost requiring the opening opposition salvo.

Federally-registered trademark owners know the importance of protecting the federal trademark register, because what, and how many similar third party marks, are allowed for registration, can negatively impact the owner’s trademark strength, scope of rights, and enforcement success.

Trademark rights are dynamic, they’ll shrink or grow over time, depending on the landscape at the time of enforcement, so not limiting registration at the USPTO can have more negative impact on strength and scope than an single, discreet, unauthorized use of a confusingly similar mark.

Looking the other way at trademark applications landing within a brand owner’s legitimate scope of protection, indirectly sends the perhaps unintended message to the trademark world, and those who monitor it, that the owner willingly accepts the shrinkage of its trademark rights.

So, serious trademark owners watch for conflicting filings at the USPTO, and stand in the way of registration, until agreement can be reached on how to coexist without a likelihood of confusion.

What I mean by many trademark disputes ending at the TTAB is, most oppositions do not go to final decision, the vast majority settle with a mutually-beneficial coexistence agreement in place.

And, when they don’t, trademark and brand owners — who follow us here — also know that the importance of final TTAB decisions has been raised, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently opened the door to having certain TTAB decisions — through the application of issue preclusion — control the outcome of later federal district court infringement and dilution law suits.

Congratulations to the TTAB on reaching sixty years of dedicated service to trademark and brand owners, as we look forward to the interesting issues likely to be decided in 2018 and beyond.

As I reflect on the more than twenty-five years of my experience before the TTAB, at this point in time — spanning nearly half of the TTAB’s existence — I’ll have to say, the TTAB seems to be carefully and thoughtfully emulating the characteristics of a fine wine as it matures.

What are your predictions of the 2018 decisions that will stand out? Fraud? Functionality? Fame?

Will the TTAB revisit its previous perceived inability to address Constitutional issues, like say, dilution tarnishmentreligious text marks, or application of the Section 2(c) bar to prevent federal registration of political trademark speech, and, if not this coming year, when?

I’m thinking this will be the year of informational and failure to function decisions, how about you?

We’ve written a lot over the years about Adidas’ three-stripe non-verbal, non-traditional trademark. Turns out, Adidas actually owns a federally-registered trademark for the verbal, spelled-out, look-for advertising equivalent too, called: The Brand With The 3 Stripes®.

We haven’t until now probed the meaning of “stripe” though: “A long narrow band or strip, typically of the same width throughout its length, differing in color or texture from the surface on either side of it.” Synonyms include, lines, bands, belts and bars, among others.

See where I’m headed? What is a reasonable scope of rights for this likely famous mark?

Interestingly, whether by strategic design or unintentional lack of consistency, Adidas has called versions of its three-stripe device mark at the USPTO, three parallel bands, three diagonal quadrilaterals, and three slanted quadrilateral bars too.

 

 

 

Whatever the verbiage though, the first time I encountered the competing Lululemon brand, my eyes were drawn to the consistent application of three parallel lines positioned on the upper chest/shoulder area of the shirt, leaving me to wonder why Adidas tolerates this non-functional marking and symbol, especially given its heavy enforcement appetite:

Turns out, Adidas spoke up a few years back when Lululemon applied to federally register a non-traditional trademark described as “three parallel bars applied to the front left-hand seam of the upper chest/shoulder area of the shirt, t-shirt, sweatshirt, sweater, tank-top or jacket,” as shown in the drawing below:

 

It’s curious that Lululemon chose to call the three parallel lines, “bands,” (Adidas verbiage) especially since during prosecution it described a “Three Stitch Design mark,” which seems more accurate, yet after convincing the USPTO that Lululemon had a distinctive non-traditional mark, Adidas came knocking and opposed anyway.

Having said that, Adidas knocked only so hard, as its mission appears to have been focused on preventing registration only, not use, since the use persists several years later. Wouldn’t you enjoy the opportunity to view the apparent settlement and coexistence agreement?

Had Adidas not opposed, or had Lululemon been able to defend the opposition, perhaps Lulu would be in a stronger position to do something about these Reef shoes that I initially mistook for an extension of the Lululemon brand (until spending more time handling them):

 

What do you think, do you suppose Reef shoes felt more comfortable adopting the three stitch device on shoes because Lulu has no non-traditional trademark registration and would have to establish non-functionality and common law rights to enforce, or perhaps, because Lulu has apparently stopped selling footwear and shoes?

Do you suppose that Reef shoes has focused on the registration of other non-traditional marks and refrained from seeking federal registration of its three stitch design because it doesn’t want to hear from Adidas?

Is it fair to say that the Adidas’ stripes, bands, and quadrilaterals don’t cast a shadow on stitches, at least when it comes to use, as opposed to registration?

Hello, B&B Hardware, and what do you have to say for yourself?

A recent stroll through a big box store opened my eyes to a brand of steel toe boots I hadn’t encountered before, take a look at the CAT that will be protecting my son’s toes this Summer:

CatBoot

CAT is an excellent example of successful trademark truncation, a single-syllable truncated brand name for the four-syllable CATERPILLAR version (originally for heavy excavation equipment):

CaterpillarBoot

By the way, I love how the brand intelligently employs both versions (full and truncated) of the brand name on the goods and packaging for the goods. It permits Caterpillar Inc. to own trademark rights in both versions without risking a loss of trademark rights through abandonment when a truncation might otherwise lead to a complete phase out of the longer version.

Caterpillar Inc. also has built an impressive mountain of trademark protection for both word mark and stylized versions in many different classes of goods and services; the brand recently has asserted an impressive scope of rights. It also clearly thought about and began executing a truncation strategy nearly seventy years ago, with this very early CAT registration. Sad we won’t be seeing (again) bikes, trikes, or wagons, at least in the near future, it appears.

To be clear, brand owners should know there is no legal right for a business to be able to truncate a longer brand name, nor can one assume all brand extensions are legally viable.

As we have discussed before, a truncation strategy can make enormous sense, in part, because truncation yields a broader right (if allowed). However, it also can lead to more third party objections since there is necessarily less other matter available to help differentiate from others.

For these reasons and others, it is important for brand owners to jump in with both boots and move on the appropriate level of due diligence, not assume that the path for truncation and/or brand extension is a clear one (without the need for heavy excavation of the existing trademark landscape).

We write a lot here about the scope and strength of trademark rights and how that determination is often intertwined to making intelligent likelihood of confusion determinations.

Does “April Madness” fall within the NCAA’s scope of trademark rights for “March Madness“?

Likelihood of confusion? Is “March Madness” a famous mark deserving protection from dilution?

How about “Final 3”? Does that fall within the NCAA’s scope of trademark rights in “Final 4”?

These are some of the questions that will be answered in NCAA v. Kizzang LLC, filed by the NCAA in Indiana federal district court last week, a PDF of the complaint is here.

Yesterday we wrote about a 1929 decision determining that the letter “C” fell within the scope of rights of a trademark containing the letter “B”.

Now, the NCAA is asking for a mark containing the month “April” to fall within the scope of rights in a mark containing the month “March.”

Doesn’t this remind you a little bit of our prior discussions of Adidas and its “one stripe buffer” — enjoying protection of its three stripe design against two and four stripes?

Hat tip to Dan.